Here’s a scenario you might find familiar: You’re very good at cleaning the bathroom/folding the laundry/loading the dishwasher. No smudge of soap scum, wrinkle, or crumb goes unconquered when you’re around. But your partner? Not so much. So in the interest of saving time and having things done the “right” way, let us guess: You’re the one who ends up doing most of the housework.
Emily Oster, associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School, weighs in over at Slate about how we should divide up chores. If you’re doing everything because you’re better at things than your partner, or if you’re divvvying up work based on who likes the tasks best, you’re doing it wrong.
Oster recommends using principles of economics (“comparative advantage” versus “absolute advantage”) to keep your house spick and span:
Imagine Finland is better than Sweden at making both reindeer hats and snowshoes. But they are much, much better at the hats and only a little better at the snowshoes. The overall world production is maximized when Finland makes hats and Sweden makes snowshoes.
We say that Finland has an absolute advantage in both things but a comparative advantageonly in hats. This principle is part of the reason economists value free trade, but that’s for another column (and probably another author). But it’s also a guideline for how to trade tasks in your house. You want to assign each person the tasks on which he or she has a comparative advantage. It doesn’t matter that you have an absolute advantage in everything. If you are much, much better at the laundry and only a little better at cleaning the toilet, you should do the laundry and have your spouse get out the scrub brush. Just explain that it’s efficient!
Oster says that in her household, when she applied the principle above, things got better — she’s quick to point out that people do improve at tasks over time. So all is not lost if your husband has never scrubbed a pan properly in his life. He’ll learn.
While you’re trying to work all of this out, remember the humble concept of choreplay. Sexpert Dr. Ian Kerner says, “the best foreplay for women is ‘choreplay,’ or when a man does household chores without being asked.” We say: It’s also up to women to recognize that effort.
So whether he’s scrubbed the tub “correctly,” or if there are still little sprinkles of Comet on the tile where he forgot to run the sponge, try to smile and appreciate it. He’s trying to make you happy, which is an extremely important thing to honor, no matter if your house passes the white glove test or not.
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